Friday, November 8, 2019

Ready, Set, Prep: Planning Makes Thanksgiving a Lot More Fun

Thanksgiving was my mother's favorite holiday. She loved the food, the gathering of friends and family and the positive outlook of a holiday that sought to bring everyone to the table. My wife and I enjoy having a gathering at our house as a time to celebrate what is good about our life, to see family and friends we don't see often enough and to have a really great feast.

Because we host the meal at our house, there is a lot to do.


Whether you are hosting a dinner of six or twenty-six, with so many dishes part of the celebration, planning is essential. And that means being prepared. Planning ahead ultimately means less stress and more fun on Thanksgiving. 

The First Step - Make a List 

Step 1 - as soon as you decide you will host, invite the guests so you have a head-count and ask who will bring a favorite Thanksgiving dish

Step 2 - pull out the recipes you want to make, make an ingredients list and a preparation time line (some dishes like pickles can be made the week before, some like an apple pie and the turkey are best made on Thanksgiving)

Step 3 - clean the house

Step 4 - borrow extra chairs

Step 5 - pull the extra table out of the garage

Step 6 - shop

Step 7 - cook

Step 8 - eat

Step 9 - clean up

Step 10 - lie down

The recipes we use are a mix of the ones we've perfected over the years and a couple that are new to us. We want to have the favorites and also to shake it up a bit, to have some surprises.

Among the favorites are kosher dill pickles, corn bread stuffing with Italian sausage and shiitake mushrooms, cranberry sauce with nuts and orange juice, shiitake mushroom-turkey liver pate and chocolate banana walnut cake.

I've already made the Moroccan style pickles that I learned to make on a trip to Marrakech. The kosher dill pickles only need 2-3 days to cure, so I'll make those on Monday of Thanksgiving week.

10 Delicious Holiday Recipes

To help prepare for Thanksgiving, I published an e-cookbook 10 Delicious Holiday Recipes.
The ten recipes are easy-to-make, festive and fun. With a recipe for roasting a perfect Thanksgiving turkey with stuffing.

Using the Kindle App you can read the recipes on any smart phone, computer or tablet. The app is free and downloads easily.

I hope you'll buy my book and let me help you plan your holiday meals with recipes for special cocktails, appetizers, salads, sides, entrees and really delicious desserts.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Ready, Set, Brine - Making Pickles for Thanksgiving and Anytime

Thanksgiving is a month away. Now is a good time to send out invitations, assemble favorite recipes and make pickles.

Pickles are delicious anytime of the year. For Thanksgiving they are especially good. Their crunch and acidity counterbalances the deliciousness of gravy, mashed potatoes and roast turkey. 

For Thanksgiving I always make two kinds of pickles. Kosher dill pickles and Moroccan-style pickled vegetables. Kosher dills should be made a few days before served. Moroccan-style pickled vegetables should be made two weeks ahead. They will keep, sealed in a jar, refrigerated for as long as a year.


No doubt the people who made the first pickles thought they had made a mistake. Somebody accidentally forgot about some raw vegetables in a pot with an acid and salt. Surprise, surprise. A week later, the vegetables weren’t moldy, no bugs had eaten them and, deliciously, they had a nice crunch and tang. Thus was born, the pickle!

In the 1920s, my great-grandfather made pickles on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Grandmother Caroline used to tell stories about working in their little grocery store as a child. When customers would want pickles, she would hop off the counter and go out front to the pickle barrels and fish out the ones they wanted.

I never knew her parents. I never ate their pickles, but I must have brine in my veins because wherever I travel, I am always on the look out for pickles.

Moroccan pickled veggies

In Morocco at a cooking class in Marrakech at La Maison Arabe, Amaggie Wafa and Ayada Benijei taught us to make Berber bread, couscous with chicken and vegetables, chicken tagine with preserved lemons and clarified butter, tomato marmalade, eggplant-tomato salad and preserved vegetables.
The cooking class lasted four hours. The time it took to show us how to make preserved or pickled vegetables: five minutes.
To Wafa and Benijei, the process was so easy, there were no pickle recipes. A little of this, a little of that, throw the vegetables into a jar, shake it up, put it in a cupboard and in a week, voila, you have pickles.

Pickle recipes tip from Grandma

From my grandmother I learned that making kosher dill pickles was a little more complicated. In retrospect, I think that’s because pickling cukes are more prone to decay than are the carrots, parsnip, fennel and green beans used in Morocco.
Every Thanksgiving I make both.
Pickles are very personal. What one person loves might be too salty or vinegary to another. It may take you several tries before you settle on the mix of salt, vinegar and spices that suits your palate.

Garlic is usually added to brine. My grandmother didn't put garlic in hers and I don't put any in mine so I indicated garlic as optional.

Lower East Side Kosher Dill Pickles

When making kosher dill pickles keep in mind four very important steps:
1. Select pickling cukes, not salad cucumbers, and pick ones without blemishes or soft spots.
2. Taste the brine to confirm you like the balance of salt-to-vinegar. The flavor of the brine will approximate the flavor of the pickles.
3. Once the cukes are in the brine, they must be kept submerged in an open container.
4. When the pickles have achieved the degree of pickling you like, which could take three days to a week, store the pickles in the brine, seal and keep in a refrigerator where they will last for several weeks.
Ingredients
8 cups water
¼ cup kosher salt
1 cup white wine vinegar or yellow Iranian vinegar (my preference)
4 garlic cloves, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips (optional)
5 dried bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
10 whole mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open
5 sprigs of fresh dill
5 pounds small pickling cucumbers, washed, stems removed, dried
Directions
1. In a non-reactive pot, heat the water and vinegar on a medium flame. When the water gently simmers, add the salt and stir to dissolve. Do not allow the water to boil.
2. Dip your finger in the brine, taste and adjust the flavor with a bit more salt, water or vinegar.
3. Place the garlic and spices in the bottom of a gallon glass or plastic container. Arrange the cucumbers inside.
4. Pour in the hot brine being careful to cover the cucumbers. Reserve 1 cup of brine.
5. To keep the cucumbers submerged in the brine, find a plastic cup that is not as wide as the mouth of the container. Place the reserved cup of brine into the plastic cup and put into the container to press down on the cucumbers.
6. Place the container in a dark, cool corner of the kitchen. Check daily to make sure the cucumbers are submerged. If the brine evaporates, use the reserved brine in the plastic cup, replenishing the liquid in the cup with water to weigh down the cukes.
7. After three days, remove one cucumber and sample. If you like your pickles crisp, that may be enough time. If they aren’t pickled enough for you, let them stay on the counter another few days.
8. When you like how they taste, remove the cup and seal the top. Refrigerate the container.

Moroccan Style Preserved Vegetables

In Morocco, virtually any vegetable can be preserved. In the class, we were shown green beans, fennel, parsnips and carrots. Experiment and see what you like, including asparagus, zucchini, beets, daikon, eggplant, daikon and broccoli.


For myself, over the years I have settled on onions, carrots, cauliflower florets and green cabbage. Recently I have been making celery hearts because every morning my wife juices a celery stalk to begin her day with a glass of healthy celery juice. That  makes me the beneficiary of a great many celery stalks, which I am making into pickles. Which I love.
Whatever you try, prepare the vegetable by washing, peeling and cutting them into pieces similar in size, about a 1/4" except with the celery hearts. I leave the bottom of the hearts so they pickle as a stalk.
The fun thing about pickling is you can personalize your pickles, making them any way you like.

Save the pickling brine. It is delicious poured over warm Japanese rice or mixed with olive oil to make a salad dressing.
Ingredients
2 whole carrots, ends trimmed, washed, peeled, cut into rounds, ¼-inch thick

2 celery hearts, root end trimmed

1 medium yellow onion, washed, root and stem ends removed, peeled, sliced lengthwise (root to stem) 1/4" slices
1 small whole green cabbage, washed, any brown outer leaves removed and discarded, cut in half, cut out core and reserve for soup, cut into 1/4" squares

1 small white cauliflower, washed, leaves removed (instructions below)
4 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or 1 dried Sichuan pepper, split open, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 garlic clove, skin removed, root end trimmed off, cut into thin strips (optional)
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1½ cups white wine or yellow Iranian vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Directions
1. Sterilize two quart-sized glass or plastic containers.

2. Finalize the prep on the cauliflower by using a sharp pairing knife to create 1" long florets about 1/4" thick. Use the remaining stems for a stir fry or soup.


3. Toss the vegetables together to mix well in a large bowl.

4. Place the mixed vegetables into the two jars.

5. Add equal amounts of the aromatics to each jar.
6. Combine the kosher salt, water and vinegar. Mix well. Taste. If you find the mixture too acidic, slowly add water until you like the flavor. If not salty enough, add a small amount of kosher salt
7. Pour the water-vinegar mixture into the jars, making sure the liquid covers the vegetables. If more liquid is needed, make more brine and reserve any left over.

8. Top off each jar with equal amounts of olive oil.
9. Seal the jars and shake well to dissolve the salt and mix the aromatics.
10. Refrigerate. Wait one week and taste. Wait longer if they aren’t pickled enough. They will keep in the refrigerator for months.

   

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Ready. Set. Go. "00" Flour Makes the Best Homemade Pasta

When I learned how to make pasta from scratch, I gave away all my boxes of dried pasta. Quality brands of spaghetti, linguini, fusilli, penne, tagliatelle and pappardelle. All of it.

I also gave away my shiny chrome Marcato hand-operated pasta making machine.

Now I only wanted to eat pasta that I made myself.  No machines. Just me, a rolling pin, an egg and "00" flour.

I always loved pasta, even when my mom served me Chef Boyardee's pasta and sauce in a can. As an adult, I made my own sauces and used dried pastas, priding myself on buying the best quality available.

On a press trip to Seattle, I had a pasta-epiphany at Spinasse (1531 14th Avenue, Seattle 98122, 206/251-7673). I was traveling with a group of food writers. Before the pasta arrived, we were talking nosily about the trip. One taste of our pasta and all talking ceased. Everyone focused on their plates. I had pasta with a deliciously savory meat ragu (Tajarin al ragu). 

That pasta was a revelation. The bite, flavor and texture of chef Stuart Lane's pasta was unique in my experience. After that visit, I wanted to make my own pasta at home. I bought a machine and read countless recipes. The result was always less than satisfying.

Ultimately I gave up on making my own pasta and concentrated on sauces



Then I watched the "Fat" episode of Samin Nosrat's Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat. That episode is my favorite of the series. I loved watching chef Nostrat lose herself in the sights, sounds, textures and ingredients of Italy.

In the episode she visits Benedetta Vitali's Tuscan kitchen to learn her way of making pasta. The instruction was simple. Mix together the best eggs and "00" flour you can find. Knead and roll out the dough into a paper-thin, round sheet. Use a knife to cut the pasta. Boil in salted water. Drain. Done!

As soon as the episode ended, I had to try. Since I didn't have "00" flour, I used All-Purpose flour. The result was good and, thinking "00" flour was too exotic to find locally, I kept using AP flour, but the result was inconsistent. 



So I went in search of "00" flour. Which wasn't much of a search. Our local supermarket carried it. A bit more expensive than AP flour, "00" made all the difference.

I was so excited by the result, now I make pasta all the time.

Basic Pasta Dough

In correspondence with chef Lane for this post, he explained that "'00' is "a fine grained/milled slightly softer than all purposed flour."  That finer grain gives the dough better elasticity. 

To prevent the dough from sticking while you roll it out, sprinkle flour on the surface of the cutting board and on the dough. When pastry chef Federico Fernandez was showing me how to make sfogletella, a wonderful Italian pastry, for my YouTube Channel: Secrets of Restaurant Chefs, he used semolina instead of flour on the cutting board. 

I liked the idea of using the coarser semolina when I make pasta. I dust the cutting board with semolina, which is incorporated into the dough. I think it adds a nice texture. Less available than "00" flour, both are sold in Italian markets. (For a good description of the differences between "00" flour and semolina, please visit the website Farro.)


As with any dish, using the best ingredients improves the quality, so use the best eggs you can find. Chef Lane sources his from organic farms in the Seattle area like Stokesberry.

One day after I had rolled out the dough, I was distracted by a phone call. Before I realized it, more than half an hour had passed. When I returned to the kitchen, I discovered that the dough had dried slightly. The pasta that day was lighter, with a better bite. I added the air-drying step to my pasta making. I was very pleased when chef Lane noted that letting his dough dry was a key step for him as well.

Because the dough is fresh, the pasta cooks more quickly than dried pasta. On average, 5 minutes is sufficient, but taste the pasta after 3 minutes so it doesn't over cook.

I add freshly ground pepper and sea salt to the flour for added flavor, but that is optional.

When the pasta cooks in the salted water, it expands. What appears to be a small amount of dough on the cutting board will yield a much larger amount of cooked pasta.

To make larger yields, multiple the ingredients by the number of servings you want. However, for ease when rolling out the dough, I would advise working with an amount of dough equivalent to that made with 1 egg and 1/2 cup of flour.

The dough must be used the same day you make it. Once cooked, the pasta can be kept in an air-tight container to use the next day.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Waiting time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 65 minutes

Yield: one entrée serving or two side dish servings

Ingredients

1 farm fresh egg

1/2 cup "00" flour + 2 tablespoons "00" flour or semolina to dust the cutting board and dough

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt (optional)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Directions

1. Place the flour on the cutting board. Using a fork, make an indentation into the top of the mound to create a "volcano." Season flour with black pepper and sea salt (optional)


2. Remove the egg from its shell and place into the indentation.

3. Using the fork, swirl the egg into the flour until completely incorporated. Use the fork to scrape the wet dough off the cutting the dough.


4. Dust the wet dough with flour or semolina. Clean any dough off the fork. Use your hands to form the dough into a ball. Liberally sprinkling flour or semolina on the cutting board, roll the dough back and forth. Incorporate any dough that sticks to your fingers or the cutting board. Continue rolling the ball back and forth on the cutting board for 10-15 minutes. As chef Lane notes, "Really knead the dough a lot. You are not going to overwork it (like bread). In fact, it is more common to underwork it."

5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest 30 minutes. If the weather is cool, leave the dough on the counter. If the weather is hot, place the dough in the refrigerator.


6. Unwrap the dough. Sprinkle flour or semolina on the cutting board. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough and roll out, keeping the round shape by turning the disk of dough frequently. After rolling out the dough three or four times, flip it over, dusting the cutting board and the dough to prevent sticking. Continue rolling out the dough until it is paper thin.


7. Allow the rolled out dough to air-dry for 15-30 minutes.

8. Add kosher salt to water in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil.

9. Place a colander and a heat-proof cup in the sink.

10. Sharpen a chefs knife.

11. Lightly dust the rolled out, air-dried dough with flour or semolina, fold the circle of dough in half. Do not press the dough.


Dust again and fold a second time.


Dust again and fold a third time and then a fourth time until the folded dough is approximately 1" wide.


12. You can cut the pasta into any width you enjoy, remembering that the pasta will double in size in the boiling salted water.


13. After you have cut the dough into strips, lift the cut pasta and let fall onto the cutting board so the strands separate.

14. Place into the boiling salted water, using tongs to separate the strands. Cook 3-5 minutes. Taste after 3 minutes to confirm when the pasta is to your liking.


15. Drain in the colander, capturing 1 cup of salted pasta water in the heat-proof cup to use in making a pasta sauce.

16. Toss in the colander so the strands do not stick together and serve while hot.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Summer Tomatoes Saved for Winter Dishes

I wrote this post last year with ideas to take advantage of summer's bounty.

Difficult to believe, Labor Day is next week. Even as the heat of the sun makes us wonder if summer will ever end, as the saying goes, "Winter is coming."

Walking through the farmers markets, I am happy to see a great abundance of tomatoes. With that abundance comes lower prices. Find a farmer who has too much of a good thing and the price comes down even more.


"Reduced to sell." "Soft ready to eat." Those are the tomatoes I look for. I'll buy them by the bagful. Five or ten pounds at a time. My plan is to prepare for a time when fresh tomatoes are a thing of the past.


I am anticipating a time when storm clouds are outside and I'm staring into the refrigerator looking for inspiration. I yearn for the produce of summer: leafy greens, corn and full-bodied tomatoes. But there is a way to enjoy the sweet-acidic deliciousness of tomatoes even in the darkest days of winter. Just look in your freezer.
With abundant tomatoes in the farmers markets, buy ripe tomatoes, roast and freeze them to be used in braises, soups and sauces in the fall and winter. Once blasted with heat in the oven, the tomatoes happily take to the freezer if they are covered in liquid.
Enjoy frozen roasted tomatoes whole or puree into sauce, and as rain beats against your windows and snow accumulates on your lawn, you will remember those heady summer flavors.

Oven-roasted tomatoes to use as a side dish or in sauces

Use ripe and over-ripe tomatoes. If you can find only unripe, hard tomatoes, leave them in a sunny spot on the kitchen counter until they ripen. Bruised tomatoes are OK as long as you use a sharp paring knife to remove the damaged parts. Avoid tomatoes with broken skin because of the risk of mold.
Any kind of tomato can be used: heirloom, Roma, cherry, large or small salad tomatoes.
A food mill is helpful when making the sauce. If one is not available, a fine meshed wire strainer will do almost as well.


When roasting the tomatoes, it is important to use parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat mat to prevent the tomatoes from sticking to the baking sheet. With a Silpat mat, none of the good bits and sweetly-delicious liquids that caramelize on the bottom are wasted.

Roasted Tomatoes

Tomatoes love the sun’s heat when they’re growing. And they love the oven’s heat that coaxes a rich umami sweetness out of their naturally acidic souls.
That sweetness is at the heart of the roasted tomatoes that will be in your freezer.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Roasting time: 60 minutes
Yield: 1 to 2 quarts
Ingredients
5 pounds tomatoes, washed, patted dry
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Directions 
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper cut to size. Use a baking sheet with a 1-inch lip to capture any liquids created during roasting.
3. Use a sharp paring knife to cut a “V” shape around the stem, remove and discard. With cherry tomatoes, any stems can be brushed off the surface without making a cut.
4. Place the de-stemmed tomatoes on the lined baking sheet, stem side up.
5. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.
6. Place in oven and roast 60 minutes.
7. Remove and let cool.

Freezing Whole Roasted Tomatoes

When you remove the baking sheet from the oven, you’ll notice a clear liquid has accumulated on the bottom. Some of that is olive oil. But most of the liquid is a clear tomato essence prized by chefs for its clean flavor.
If you are freezing some of the roasted tomatoes whole, use the clear liquid to cover the tomatoes in the deli containers.
Use airtight containers that are about the same width as the tomatoes so you will need a small amount of liquid to cover them.

Defrosting Whole Roasted Tomatoes

When you want to use the tomatoes, take them out of the freezer in the evening and let them defrost overnight. If any ice crystals have accumulated on top of the tomatoes, rinse off the ice before defrosting.
If you want to serve them whole, the tomatoes can be warmed in the oven or microwave. They are delicate, so handle them carefully.

Whole Roasted Tomato, Easy-to-Make Pasta Sauce

A deliciously simple pasta sauce to make any time of the year, not just in winter. Serve the pasta with steamed vegetables, a charred steak or a grilled chicken breast and you will have a perfect cold weather meal that warms body and soul.
The flavorful tomato sauce can become a vegan dish by simply omitting the butter and cheese.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Sauté time: 5 minutes
Pasta cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh or packaged pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, roughly chopped (optional)
1 garlic clove, peeled, finely chopped
2 to 3 whole, large roasted tomatoes, skins removed
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Directions
1. Place a large pot of water on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well every 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place a heat-proof cup in the sink next to a large strainer. When the pasta is al dente to your taste, about 10 minutes, pour the pasta into the strainer, capturing one cup of the salted pasta water. Reserve.
3. Toss the cooked pasta to prevent clumping.
4. At the same time the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan on a medium-high flame. Heat the olive oil.
5. Add the parsley and garlic. Lightly brown.
6. Holding the roasted tomatoes over the sauté pan, use your hands to tear them apart so you capture all the liquid. Add any liquid from the deli container.
7. Stir well and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
8. Taste and salt, if needed; add a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.
9. Stir well and add butter. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding sea salt and black pepper.
10. When ready to serve, add the cooked pasta to the sauté pan. Over a medium flame, toss the pasta in the sauce to coat.
11. Serve hot with a bowl of Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

The tomatoes used to make the sauce are prepared and roasted in the same manner as those used to create whole roasted tomatoes.
Directions
1. Working with small batches, remove the roasted tomatoes from the baking sheet and put some of the roasted tomatoes into a food mill or fine mesh, wire strainer placed over a nonreactive bowl. Press the tomatoes through, collecting all the juice in the bowl.

2. Use a spatula to scrape off the pulp that will accumulate on the bottom of the food mill or the strainer. Add the pulp to the juice.

3. Discard the tomato skins. Or add to your compost. Or, even better, reserve in the freezer to use with other vegetable scraps to make vegetable stock.

Freezing Roasted Tomato Sauce

Put the open deli containers on a counter. Stir the tomato juice to mix with the pulp.

Fill each deli container to a half-inch below the top so that when the sauce freezes, the liquid will have room to expand and will not force open the lid.
When cooled, the filled containers can be placed in the freezer.

Defrosting Roasted Tomato Sauce

Even without defrosting, the frozen sauce can be used at the last minute, when you want to thicken a soup, add a layer of flavor to a braise or make a simple pasta sauce.
There are infinite ways to use this versatile sauce. One of my favorites is an easy-to-make pasta with sautéed vegetables.
If any ice crystals accumulate on the top of the sauce, rinse off the ice before defrosting.

Penne Pasta With Roasted Tomato Sauce and Sautéed Vegetables

Prep time: 10 minutes
Sauté time: 10 minutes
Pasta cooking time: 10 minutes
Total cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh or packaged pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, washed, stems removed, peeled, cut into rounds
1 medium yellow onion, washed, stems removed, peeled, roughly chopped
8 large shiitake mushrooms, ends of the stems removed, washed, patted dry, roughly chopped
2 cups broccolini or broccoli, washed, cut into florets, the stems cut into slabs
2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed, finely chopped
12 ounces frozen tomato sauce, defrosted on the counter overnight
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes or pinch of cayenne (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Directions
1. Place a large pot of water on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta. Stir well every 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Place a heat-proof cup in the sink next to a large strainer. When the pasta is al dente to your taste, pour the pasta into the strainer, capturing one cup of the salted pasta water. Reserve.
3. Toss the cooked pasta to prevent clumping.
4. At the same time the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan on a medium flame.
5. Heat the olive oil.
6. Add carrots, onion, shiitake mushrooms, broccolini and garlic. Sauté until lightly browned.
7. Add roasted tomato sauce, butter and pepper flakes. Stir well. Taste. If salt is needed, add a tablespoon or more of the pasta water.
8. Simmer on a medium flame and reduce.
9. Taste, adjust seasoning and continue simmering if you want the sauce to be thicker.
10. When the sauce is the consistency you like, add the cooked pasta, coat well.
11. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more sea salt or black pepper.
12. Serve hot with a bowl of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Brighten Spice Up a Summer Corn Salad with Mexican Elote Spices

With an abundance of corn this summer, I've been grilling and salt-boiling corn on the cob.


Seasoned with sea salt and black pepper and, sometimes, with luxurious melted butter, I couldn't be happier. On a trip to Mexico, I enjoyed grilled corn on the cob, elote. That Mexican classic made me think about making a salad that trimmed down on the fat, retained the same spices and built out the flavors.

Mexican street food 

Travel in Mexico and you'll encounter street vendors selling a great number of delicious food snacks. Elote is one of the best. An ear of corn is grilled, dusted with dry cheese, slavered with mayonnaise and seasoned with chili powder and fresh lime juice. The ear of corn is always served whole, sometimes resting in a paper dish or with a stick in the bottom like a corndog.


Elote is delicious but messy to eat. A whole ear of corn takes two hands to manage. And, with each bite, the finely grated Cotija cheese floats into the air, landing on clothing.

Deconstructing elote

Cutting the kernels off the cobs makes the seasoned corn easier to enjoy. In Mexico there is a corn kernel snack called esquires, which employs some of the elote seasonings. The recipe I settled on uses olive oil instead of mayonnaise. That way the salad can be served as a light entrée topped with a protein or as a side dish accompanying grilled vegetables, meats, poultry and fish. A perfect summer recipe.


The best way to cook corn on the cob is a topic of heated debate. There are those who will only boil corn, others who will only grill it. I have seen elote prepared using both. My preference is to strip off the husk and grill the ear so that some of the kernels are charred, adding caramelized sweetness to the salad.

Just the right cheese

What gives elote its distinctive flavor is the combination of spicy chili powder, fresh lime juice and Mexican Cotija cheese. 

Powdery when finely grated, Cotija cheese is salty so you may not need to add salt when you make the corn salad. Often described as having qualities similar to feta and Parmesan, Cotija tastes quite different.



Mexican Corn Salad

Adding finely chopped Italian parsley to the seasoned corn kernels brightens the flavors. Cilantro can be used instead of parsley to give the salad a peppery flavor.

The corn can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator overnight. In which case, do not add the Cotija cheese or parsley until just before serving.

To create a colorful salad, just before serving, toss the seasoned corn and parsley with quartered cherry tomatoes, cut-up avocados and butter lettuce or romaine leaves.

After tossing, taste the salad and adjust the amount of Cotija cheese and chili powder and, if needed sea salt.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 25 to 30 minutes

Yield: 4 entrée servings or 8 side dish servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon sea salt 

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 large ears of corn, husks and silks removed, washed, dried

1/2 cup finely grated Cotija cheese

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Directions

1. Preheat an indoor grill or outdoor barbecue to hot.

2. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a flat pan and season with sea salt and black pepper.

3. Roll the ears of corn in the seasoned olive oil to coat all sides.

4. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill, turning every 2 to 3 minutes so that some of the kernels char, being careful not to burn the ears.

5. After the corn is cooked on all sides, remove and let cool in the flat pan with the seasoned olive oil.

6. To cut the kernels off the cob, use a sharp chef's knife. Hold each ear of corn over the pan with the seasoned oil and slice the kernels off the cob.


7. Transfer the kernels and the remaining seasoned oil into a large mixing bowl.

8. Add Cotija cheese, chili powder and parsley. Toss well.


9. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the salad and toss.





10. Serve at room temperature with lime wedges on the side.